Commentary

With no wind, veterans aim to stay hot

Mother Nature takes experience out of play at Colonial, but wizened golfers hang tough

Updated: May 29, 2010, 11:08 PM ET
By Jeff Caplan | ESPNDallas.com

FORT WORTH, Texas -- Such a cruel spell Mother Nature has cast, whipping up unconventional conditions that have all but stifled the savvy and experience crafty tour veterans have embraced for years in fending off the young big hitters to win at Colonial.

Oppressive heat is one thing, but to stunt Colonial's usual gustiness so that a sneeze from the sweaty gallery counts as a welcome breeze is taking it too far.

"This course is protected by wind. It's got no wind," bewildered two-time Colonial champion Kenny Perry said. "I've never seen it play like this in my 20-something years here."

Perry managed to stay in contention despite a runaway putter after Saturday's third consecutive broiler-oven round at the Crowne Plaza Invitational at Colonial. The 49-year-old Perry, who won titles here in 2003 and 2005, is on the cusp of contention heading into Sunday's final round, as are three other "old-timers," who are doing their best to gut it out through these strangely hot, still days.

"I'm soaking wet. Yeah, it's tough," said 45-year-old Scott Verplank, who also ended the third round five shots back at 11 under. "Probably a little bit worse for us old guys than it is for the young guys."

Young guns like 30-something co-leaders Brian Davis and Bryce Molder. Yet, in a sport that's getting progressively younger -- look at the 20-something winners at this year's Texas Tour stops -- there is the "hey-I-remember-you" foursome lurking among the top 16 and within striking range.

Lee Janzen, 45, hit all 18 greens Saturday and carded a third-round best 7 under to join Perry and Verplank at 11 under. Verplank bogeyed the 18th to drop out of a four-way tie at 12 under that includes Corey Pavin. At 50, Pavin is the oldest golfer in the field. He skipped the $2 million purse at the Senior PGA Championship in Denver to play his 27th Colonial and its $6.2 million purse.

Pavin and Perry are looking to join Ben Hogan as the only players to win here more than twice. Davis and Molder have yet to win anywhere as PGA Tour members. Under normal conditions, the old guys would be homing in on a plaid jacket, even down as many as five strokes.

But Sunday's forecast calls for more of the same baking heat and strategy-blowing wind -- as in none.

"It takes away the ball strikers because you've got to kind of fit it around this golf course, you've got to play the wind and pay attention and get it out there," Perry said. "Well, with no wind, you just aim it down the middle and let it go."

The course "is not showing its teeth," said Pavin, who won Colonial in 1985 and 1996. It's been reflective in the scores. The fairways are firm and fast, and the greens, needing to be watered during play, are forgiving.

The cut after Friday's round was 2 under. After three rounds, only four of 76 players are not under par and just one, Ian Poulter, is over at plus-1. It's still amazing to think that Phil Mickelson couldn't make the cut -- he finished plus-4 after two rounds.

This wise, old Colonial course has always been kind to the thoughtful and meticulous, until now.

"It does, but not necessarily when it's playing like this," Verplank said. "When it's real windy and the greens are a little bit firmer and a touch faster and it gets tricky, then some local knowledge would help a little bit more. Right now, if you hit it in the fairway, you're just firing at the flag because the greens are soft and there's no wind blowing."

Six of the last 12 Colonial champions have been 40 or older. Tom Watson remains the oldest winner at 48 in 1998. Nick Price was 45 in 2002. Perry was 42 in 2003 and 44 in 2005. Defending champ Steve Stricker, who sits at 8 under, was 42.

Jack Nicklaus won Colonial in 1982 at age 42. And Hogan won his fifth in 1959 at 46.

"When the course plays as easy as Colonial is playing this year -- it still is not an easy golf course -- when the wind doesn't blow, guys are going to hit a lot more greens and just fly it at the pins a lot more," Pavin said. "This course is definitely not showing its teeth, and when it does it requires some intelligent course management."

The odds are stacked against the old guys to pull out a plaid jacket. Even with conditions that aren't ideal for the crowd who prefers to move the ball around the trees rather than blast over them, anything is possible.

Janzen said he couldn't help but think about a course-record 59 after he started Saturday 5 under after seven holes.

"Oh yeah, I mean you can get it going," Verplank said. "If conditions stay like this -- which I think they're forecast to -- somebody five or six shots back can get hot and win the golf tournament."

Jeff Caplan covers golf for ESPNDallas.com. You can follow him on Twitter or leave a question for his weekly mailbag.

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